Now That’s a Good Idea (She Said, She Said)

by matttbastard

The magnificent Littlem, bumped from comments:

For those who have proven themselves allies by support of their convictions by their actions and words, please permit me to offer my respect and gratitude.

Some suggestions:

If you have friends that work as
– university administrators
– tenured professors
– lecturers

you can let them know that the attitudes that are espoused in [It’s a Jungle Out There] as perpetuated by the illustrations are NOT attitudes that should be supported and disseminated in institutions of higher learning.

If you have friends that work at
– Borders
– Amazon
– Barnes and Noble
– Powells

you can let them know that this is not a voice that should be supported — and that you have let prospective large-scale purchasers KNOW that it should not be supported — until such time as the offensive images are pulled and a new edition of the book is issued without them.

If you have friends that work in
– the mainstream press
– the offline alternative press

you can let them know that the attitudes that are espoused in the book as perpetuated by the illustrations are NOT attitudes that should be supported and disseminated in public institutions or public lectures.

There are things (when and if one is not falling down tired) that can be done in addition to bloggers who write in support of justice and equity, and powerful withdrawal — like BFP’s — to demonstrate that there are voices that should not be marginalized, dismissed or ignored, and some things that should NEVER appear, in a culture that says it supports equity and justice for all people.

PREACH!

Related: WOC PhD with a lengthy but absolutely necessary post detailing why the girlcott of Seal Press needs to continue (h/t Ravenmn); Daisy and Sudy on how we got to wherever the fuck we are now.

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Amanda Marcotte and Seal Press Respond

by matttbastard

From Amanda Marcotte:

I’m sorry. Plain and simple. I didn’t pick the offensive imagery in my book, but I should have caught it sooner than now. I didn’t and there’s no excuse. It was my first book, I was excited and happy, but I needed to have a more critical eye. I would do anything to remove racist images from the first printing of the book if I could, and I am relieved and happy to say that they will be removed from future printings. Seal Press has their note of apology up too, and they accept full responsibility for these mistakes. I really recommend reading it.

I can understand why anyone would choose to boycott a book with these images, and I respect that choice. Hopefully, once they are removed, people will reconsider supporting the book if they like the content. I, for one, will be ripping the pages out of my copy but keeping them as a reminder to be alert. Thank you to everyone who’s engaged in a conversation that’s been tough for me but productive nonetheless.

This is pretty much what I’ve got to say. I welcome your feedback below. I imagine things might get pretty intense, so I may not choose to say much more than this, but know that I’m reading and listening and respect your thoughts very much. Once again, I apologize for the images, my overlooking them, and any hurt this may have caused.

From the Seal Press blog:

A Public Apology

To Our Readers, Our Friends, Our Critics,

We are taking action immediately to remove the offensive images from It’s A Jungle Out There. We are currently reprinting, and we will make these changes now. We apologize for any pain or concern these images have caused.

We do not believe it is appropriate for a book about feminism, albeit a book of humor, to have any images or illustrations that are offensive to anyone.

Some have asked the valid question, “What were you thinking?”

Please know that neither the cover, nor the interior images, were meant to make any serious statement. We were hoping for a campy, retro package to complement the author’s humor. That is all. We were not thinking.

As an organization, we need to look seriously at the effects of white privilege. We will be looking for anti-racist trainings offered here in the Bay Area. We want to incorporate race analysis into our work.

In the meantime, please know that all involved in the publishing of It’s A Jungle Out There, from editorial to production were not trying to send a message to anyone about our feelings regarding race. If taken seriously as a representation of our intentions, these images are also not very feminist. By putting the big blonde in the skimpy bathing suit with the big breasts, the tiny waist, and the weapon on our cover, we are also not asserting that she is any kind of standard that anyone should aspire to. This 1950s Marvel comic is not an accurate reflection of our beauty standards, our beliefs regarding one’s right to bear arms, nor our perspectives on race relations, foreign policy, or environmental policy.

We also extend this apology to the author, Amanda Marcotte, who did not select these images for her book. Writing humor is very difficult. While our intention was to complement your words, we see that these images have had the opposite effect, and for that, we are sorry.

Sincerely and humbly,

Krista Lyons-Gould and Brooke Warner

[edit: subsequently appended to original [non] apology, h/t Mandolin:

Please note that, upon reflection, we realize that the second to the last paragraph of this post doesn’t do a good job of conveying our intended meaning. We do not want to delete it, but we do want to make a note around our intent, since its purpose was to further articulate the “what were they thinking?” question. We apologize that this paragraph undermines our apology. We acknowledge that the images are racist and not okay under any circumstances. We are wholeheartedly sincere in our apology, and the actions we’ve laid out above will be acted upon immediately.]

“We were not thinking.”

Ok, I haven’t had much chance to look at other responses to this latest development, but my first gut reaction is to ask the obvious: “why weren’t you thinking?” I can’t begin to count the number of white feminists/allies who say they had read through the book–to say nothing of the publisher–and never even noticed the fucking spearchuckers in the chapter headings. And if the answer is “white privilege” (as I suspect it to be), then we’ve circled back yet again to the original problem, which is the systemic marginalization and silencing of WOC voices and concerns (whether deliberately or inadvertently/indifferently) by an overwhelmingly oblivious white middle class feminist mainstream.

So where the fuck do we go from here, apart from (sincerely and humbly) continuing along the well-trodden path of least resistance?

Update: Memo to Seal Press: Non-apologies. Are. Not. Fucking. Good. Enough.

As Ebog Johnson said in comments @ Alas:

That apology over at Seal Press’ blog is straight out of the Jane “Blackface Joe” Hamsher school of racial apologies. They should have just gone the full Bill Clinton and wagged their finger at us about how they’re being Mau-Mau’d or race-carded.

They are quick studies, though. The promise to take a class is nice EEOC/HR jujitsu. By allocating funds to diversity education, they not only get to do public penance, but also get to insulate themselves internally should any colored Seal Press employee ever get to thinking that the place is a racially hostile workplace. (This of course assumes they have any colored employees.)

Some people really never learn.

Werd. Half-assed CYA strategies solely enacted to minimize privilege-blowback shouldn’t be immediately rewarded with the benefit of the doubt (nor the legitimacy afforded by giving up your hard earned dollars to a corporation that still doesn’t fucking get it). Keep those letters coming, folks.

Update 2 04.26: Jill’s mea culpa:

I’m really glad that Seal will issue a re-print, minus the images, and that they’ve issued an apology. I’m glad that Amanda issued an apology. I’m leaving up my original post about the book, not because I still stand by it 100%, but because I believe in keeping things like that on the record. I think it looks a lot shadier to change it and pretend that nothing happened, and that I was in the right all along. I wasn’t. Erasing the post won’t erase the disappointment and the hurt that the post, and my endorsement, caused. I’m leaving that post up, and augmenting it with this one, as a record of that.

I want to be clear that I’m not trying to railroad Amanda, even if that’s how I suspect she’ll feel. Amanda is a friend of mine, and she’s a friend for lots of reasons — she’s smart, she’s funny, and she does great feminist work every day. I continue to admire her, and the body of work that she has produced. I’ve read her since she was at Mousewords. I was thrilled when she got a bigger platform. I link to her stuff all the time. I was excited she got a book deal, and I looked forward to reading her book. I also don’t know what it’s like to be in her position — she has been through the right-wing machine, and she came out of it ok. The fact that she wasn’t crushed by it, and that she came out swinging, speaks volumes about her strength of character. I think it also shaped how she responds to conflict now. So I hope she knows that this post comes from a place of love and respect.

But sometimes, friends need to tell other friends to do better.

One thing I appreciate about this community is that we push each other to be better, even in the face of supreme fuck-ups. In the other book thread, people could have just said, “Fuck you, Jill,” and that would have been a legitimate response. People could have said, “You are going about this in an ass-backwards way, because you are blinded by your privilege and you are hopeless.” They would have been right, at least about the privilege part (I hope not about the hopeless part). But people didn’t do that. They spelled out their grievances. They explained things. They got angry, but it was justified. And I didn’t do the right thing right away. I’m sure there will be people for whom even this won’t be satisfactory; it’ll be not enough, or too little too late, or not exactly what they wanted or expected from me. That’s ok, and I think I need to realize that I cannot make everyone happy, as much as I want to. I am not going to be able to answer every call to action. I am not going to always be able to tell my friends what they want to hear. But I want to not lay awake at night, sick to my stomach, because I’m sitting on the fence. And I’ve sat on the fence here, and I effectively crossed a picket line when I promoted that book.

For the most part, as angry and hurt as people were, they trusted me enough to come here and talk. I can’t explain how grateful I am for that. And I don’t want to be a disappointment.

Read the whole damn thing.  If only the braintrust @ Seal Press possessed even a fraction of Jill’s awesomeness.

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I Write Letters (and You Can, Too!)

Dear Seal Press,

There’s nothing “groundbreaking” (nor *cough* “subversive” or “ironic”) about undeniably racist imagery. What the bloody blue hell were you thinking?

Warmest regards,

matttbastard

P.S. You might want to think about amending your tagline. I suggest going with a classic truth-in-advertising motif. How about: “Superficial pablum. By white women. For white women”?

Related: You can write letters too!

General Inquiries:

Seal Press
<!–1400 65th Street, Suite 250
Emeryville, CA 94608
1700 4th Street
Berkeley, California 94710
(510) 595-3664

Perseus Books Group (Headquarters)
387 Park Avenue South
12th Floor
New York, NY 10016
(212) 340-8100

Publicity:

Seal Press Publicity Department
510-595-3664
avalon.publicity@perseusbooks.com

International – General Inquiries

Canada

Toronto 559 College Street, Unit 402
Toronto, Ontario
M6G 1A9 Canada
800-747-8147 (Canada only)
416-934-9900
Fax: 416-934-1410

Graham Fidler
Executive Vice President
graham@pgcbooks.ca
voice mail: ext. 203
416-934-9900

Suzanne Wice
Sales and Marketing Manager
suzanne@pgcbooks.ca
voice mail: ext. 207
416-934-9900

Ontario, Quebec, and Atlantic Provinces

Martin and Associates:
Michael Martin and Margot Stokreef
Phone: 416-769-3947
Fax: 416-769-5967

Susan Rogers
Phone: 416-762-1230
Fax: 416-769-5967

British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba

Michael Reynolds and Associates:
Michael Reynolds and Kim Herter (Vancouver)
Phone: 604-688-6918
Fax: 604-687-4624

Heather Parsons (Calgary)
Phone: 403-233-8771
Fax: 403-233-8772

Trent Olson (Manitoba and Saskatchewan)
Phone: (204) 292-1631
Fax: (888) 821-8569

Rest of World Perseus Books Group
International Sales
Eleven Cambridge Center
Cambridge, MA 02142
Phone: (617) 252-5211
Fax: (617) 525-5265

Update 04/25: Holly hits it out of the park once again:

Seal Press recently caught a lot of flak after two of their representatives made themselves look very, very bad by thoroughly failing to engage in any kind of productive dialogue with women of color who vocally criticized the lack of racial representation in their catalog. And now this. The publishing world is a hard place these days for a feminist press — it’s hard to figure out how to be an ally to disenfranchised voices and still make ends meet. Yes. But those excuses don’t even make sense this time around. If you’ve gotta put retro cartoons on your covers to sell books, fine. But how many retro cartoon images are there in the world that don’t have hoary old racist, colonialist tropes splattered all over them? Believe me, there are plenty. Not every one is as problematic as these.

[…]

Although Amanda has long been one of my favorite bloggers, any enjoyment I once got out of reading her snappy takedowns of misogyny is rapidly turning to ashes in my mouth. And that’s why I can’t sleep, why I feel like throwing up. Like a lot of bloggers these days, I’m no longer even sure if I feel comfortable calling myself a feminist, since it seems like the popular definition of that word in so many circles has come to mean “feminism first, every other issue second.” And that’s a formula that inevitably leads to a feminism for the few. A feminism for the small numbers of women who don’t deal with intersections of one, two or ten other kinds of shit getting heaped on us every day, too many to calculate “which is most important.” It’s not a kind of feminism that works for most of the women on this planet. But you know, brownfemipower already said all this in her sign-off, I don’t need to repeat her thoughts. Just add my name to the list of those who are no longer sure if we can simply “take feminism back.” Or even if it’s worth it.

Also see Lauredhel @ Hoyden About Town, Maia @ Alas, a Blog, Ilyka, The Rotund, Galling Galla, Burning Words and Natalia. Oh, and I join Mandolin and Amp in endorsing Sylvia’s sound advice:

If you really like the quality and style of Amanda’s writing but question the use of the imagery, don’t buy the book, go to the publisher (Seal Press hurr) and tell them why you’re not buying the book, and see if you can get a reprint with just as much irony without any racism. And buy it then. I think that’s possible, especially since there’s no longer King Kong on the cover.

Personally, I wouldn’t read, buy nor endorse the book even without the images (for similar reasons as Oh outlined here, along with the previous conduct towards/marginalization of WOC by Seal Press), but YMMV.

Finally, contra Hugo, this isn’t merely a matter of “perception”. The images gratuitously featured as chapter headings in It’s a Jungle Out There are racist. Full fucking stop.

And what Angry Black Woman said.

Update 2: More science courtesy karnythia @ ABW’s pad:

Frankly we’re at a point where it’s time for feminism to either get it together, or for us to leave it where it is and continue on with our own progressive movements. There’s been some talk for years about how feminism is comprised of multiple movements and until now that’s been enough for me. But I think that I’ve been deluding myself by thinking that the behavior of the allies that do get it trumps the hurt spawned by the bigots calling themselves feminists. I can’t take calls for sisterhood or solidarity seriously from white feminists at this point and I’m sure someone is going to call that attitude racist. And that’s their lookout, but I can’t stand in sisterhood with someone that’s (maybe) willing to knife me in the back and it’s taking too much effort to try to weed out the ones that are really allies from the ones that are only claiming the title.

Read the whole damn thing.

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